Talk of the Town - Indiana weasel June 10 2004

And the Honda of Doom

What will it take? What will it take to put you in this car today?

Because I want you to have this car.

And I can, you know. It's my car. I can do whatever I want with it. And right now, I want it gone.

I want to sell it, buy another car and do what I did with the old one. Spend the next decade getting hit, being mired in traffic, shelling out ad valorem tax to the boys in the Statehouse and, in general, enjoying all the rights and privileges that go with owning a rapidly depreciating — not to mention decelerating — asset.

It's a 1994 Honda Accord with 135,000 miles on the odometer. I enjoy it when people tell you miles are "on the odometer." Could some miles have accumulated elsewhere? In the glove box, perhaps? Or one of those fiendishly inaccessible places under the driver's seat where I drop loose change?

There's a selling point: More than $20,000 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters are lost in the car. You just have to be a fearless explorer to find them. Indiana Jones and the Honda of Doom.

As to color, it's hunter green. A decade ago, this shade was fashionable for both vehicles and suburban living rooms. Now it causes people to think, "Yeech, that car must be 10 years old."

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to tell you the vehicle has been in, uh, a few minor mishaps. Actually, it's been bashed so many times, I was convinced a powerful electromagnet had been surreptitiously installed under the hood.

The first accident occurred less than 48 hours after I bought it brand new — my first new car. A Buckhead knucklehead in a twice-the-size SUV T-boned me coming out of a strip mall. Devastated, I called the insurance company.

"Oh, that's nothing," the claims person said. "I've had people who got hit five minutes after they bought the car. You know, they're excited, unfamiliar with the controls and ..." bango. New car smell and $3,175 worth of damage. All in one day.

Now I'd be lucky to get that amount for the car. This gladsome tiding came to me via the Kelly Blue Book. I don't know who Kelly is, but his book is the right color. He (or she) really bummed me out with the news.

And that's the "private party transaction "value , i.e., if I turned used car dealer and got some sucker, uh, interested party to buy the thing. The vehicle's trade-in value at a bona fide car dealership would probably buy a sack of groceries. Assuming, of course, that you don't eat meat.

I should have faced this sooner and bought a new car a couple of years ago. Because now we have two vehicles with enough total mileage to have reached the moon and get partway back. Both are in advanced states of decrepitude. Before long, both will have to be replaced.

We thought we were pretty smart for a while because everything was bought and paid for. Because not having one car payment is nice. Not having two car payments is outright ecstasy. But the automotive gods require sacrifice.

And that means visiting the car dealership, where swaggering weasel wisenheimers who scream at me on the radio — where at least I can turn them off — will trot out lines of dialogue unchanged since the dawn of the automotive age:

"I want to put you in this car!"

Yeah? I want to put you in a car, too. Preferably one with no brakes that's careening down a steep mountain road. Minus the guardrail.

"Let me talk to my manager."

They always have to call the manager. They can't stand, sit or belch without consulting the manager. Hitler, were he to visit an American car dealership, would say, "Du lieber Gott! Now that's totalitarianism."

The dealership is also like a funeral parlor. You know it's there. You know it's expensive. You don't want to go. But you wind up there just the same.

Think about it. Most bad life experiences involve a car. The nerve-jangling driver's test. The endless Soviet-style lines, delays and bureaucracy that go with getting a license. Lying mechanics and the bills they tell. Any wrecks you have along the way. And, of course, when you're dead, they slide you into the hearse for that last ride.

So you make the pearly gates, and some angelic factotum asks why you should be allowed in. You recount any good deeds you've done, recalling the people you helped along life's too-brief way.

And the angel riffles though the paperwork, sighs a deep sigh, and says:

"Let me talk to my manager."


Glen Slattery lives in Alpharetta, an old Cherokee term for "hunter green."